The 32nd Indiana Infantry
Indiana’s men were quick to respond to the President’s call for 75,000 militiamen for 90 days, and more Hoosiers volunteered than the state’s quota of 4,700 soldiers. By the end of April 1861, six regiments of infantry had been organized for three months service. Among the Germans to respond to the call were all the unmarried members of the Turnverein or Turner’s Club in Indianapolis. America’s Turners’ Clubs were gymnastic organizations, stronglysupported by Forty-Eighters, and the Turner Hall in Indianapolis was a well-known center for abolitionist activities.
After the Turners returned from their three-month enlistments, a number of them met with prominent German-American citizens to press for the establishment of an all-German regiment. Indiana’s Governor, Oliver P. Morton, approved its organization, and before the end of August 1861, the 32nd Indiana Regiment or 1st German Regiment, as it was sometimes called, had mustered into service – about 900 strong . Its ten companies were formed by Turner’s organizations from all over Indiana, including Aurora, Evansville, Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, LaFayette, Lawrenceburg, Madison, and Terre Haute. Turners from Cincinnati, who were in excess of the number needed to fill the Ninth Ohio all-German regiment, were also represented, as well as some from Louisville, Kentucky. August Willich, a well respected Forty-Eighter from Cincinnati, who was an officer in the Ninth Ohio, was selected by Governor Morton to be the 32nd Indiana’s colonel. Henry Von Tebra, from Illinois, who had prior military experience, was named Lieutenant Colonel.
The 32nd Indiana first gained nationwide attention for its gallant action at Rowlett’s Station near Munfordville, Kentucky, on December 17,1861. Four of its companies commanded by Lt. Col. Von Tebra were attacked by a regiment of cavalry, two infantry regiments and a battery of artillery. The four companies courageously defended themselves until reinforced by other companies of the 32nd, and the fight continued until the enemy hastily retreated. Fighting as skirmishers, one company formed a square when charged by the cavalry, sometimes even defending themselves singly and killing their assailants with the bayonet. The 32nd Indiana lost 10 men killed and suffered 22 wounded. Enemy losses were believed to be even greater. General Buell, commander of the Union’s Army of the Ohio, issued an order thanking the officers and men of the 32nd Indiana for their “gallant and efficient conduct.” and pointed to the regiment as an example of excellent training and discipline, which his other troops should try to emulate.
The 32nd Indiana moved to Nashville, Tennessee, in early 1862, and was part of General Don Carlos Buell’s army which arrived in time to fight in the second day’s battle at Shiloh. During an attack, the 32nd’s line began to waver as enemy bullets tore into it. Colonel August Willich rode in front of his regiment and put them through the manual of arms drill, while more of his men fell to enemy fire. This amazing act steadied his Germans, who went on to aggressively take the battle to the enemy in this important Union victory. The 32nd Indiana was part of General Rousseau’s division at Shiloh and suffered 96 killed and wounded there.
The Army of the Ohio re-organized after the battle of Perryville, and its name changed to the Army of the Cumberland. This Army’s next battle was fought near the Stones River, by Murfreesboro, Tennessee, about 30 miles southeast of Nashville. The casualty lists exceeded those at Shiloh. The Federal army’s right and center were rolled back by the Confederates on December 31, 1862; however, the left held, and prevented a Confederate rout of the Union army. The 32nd Indiana was on the Federal right and suffered 167 casualties, including 115 captured. General Willich, who now commanded the brigade to which the 32nd Indiana belonged, was also captured. Willich and most of the others taken prisoner were later exchanged for captured Confederates, and returned to duty. The Federals repulsed a ferocious attack on January 2, 1864, and the Confederates left the battlefield. Total Union casualties between December 31, 1862 and January 2, 1863, were 13,000 and Confederate casualties were 10,000
The Army of the Cumberland remained in and around Murfreesboro until late June 1863, and then embarked on the Tullahoma campaign. The 32nd Indiana suffered 15 killed and mortally wounded on June 25,1863, during a hot fight at Liberty Gap, Tennessee.
The Army of the Cumberland and the Confederate Army of Tennessee next collided near Chickamauga Creek in Georgia on September 19 and 20, 1863, in another great American slaughter. The 32nd Indiana fought courageously in this bloody battle; however, a Federal error on the second day of the battle, allowed the Confederates to break through the Union line, and the federal army was forced to retreat back to Chattanooga and fortify the city. The 32nd Indiana suffered 121 casualties suffered 118 casualties. Federal casualties totaled almost 16,000, and Confederate casualties totaled almost 18,000.
The Confederate army lay siege to Chattanooga by occupying the west bank of the Tennessee River, Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge, and the Federals suffered greatly from lack of food and supplies.
While at Chattanooga, the Army of the Cumberland was reorganized and the 32nd Indiana was placed in a division under Kentucky-native Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Wood. Brig. Gen. August Willich, former colonel of the 32nd Indiana, commanded the Third Brigade of General Wood’s division, which included the 32nd Indiana.
On November 25, 1863, Willich’s brigade attacked Confederate regiments posted at and adjacent to Orchard Knob, seizing their fortifications located east of Chattanooga and about halfway between Chattanooga and Missionary Ridge. Two days later, the Army of the Cumberland, over 22,000 troops strong, stormed Missionary Ridge and drove the Confederates from their fortifications. The soldiers only had orders to seize the enemy rifle pits at the base of the ridge; however, being under a murderous fire from above, the men took it upon themselves to storm up the ridge, and drive off the enemy, and won one of the most stunning Union victories of the war.
Several regiments, including the 32nd Indiana and 6th Kentucky, which stormed the hill almost side-by-side, have been credited with being the first to reach the crest of the ridge; however, no one knows for sure who was actually first. The 32nd Indiana and the rest of their division spent December 1863 through April 1864 marching around in East Tennessee looking for a large Confederate force thought to be in the area, but they fought no significant battles. Mostly they suffered from cold and hunger, and were elated when spring arrived.
In May 3, 1864, most of the remaining original members of the 32nd Indiana began their last campaign of the war—Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign—sometimes called “the 100 days under fire,” because of continuous contact with the enemy. Still serving in General Wood’s division, the 32nd Indiana fought at Resaca, Georgia, on May 14-15, Pickett’s Mill, on May 27, and Kennesaw Mountain, in late June.
General Willich was severely wounded during the battle of Resaca, and was never able to return to command of his brigade. The 32nd Indiana was also engaged in the siege of Atlanta, which began on July 23, 1864. The regiment was sent back to Tennessee before Atlanta fell on September 2, 1864. The 32nd Indiana suffered 42 killed and an unknown number of wounded during this campaign.
The 32nd paid a heavy price defending the Union for three years. The dead list of the 32nd Indiana contained 171 names of men killed or mortally wounded, plus 96 who died of diseases. Total 267.